Marshall: Marrying Football and Academics

Phillip Marshall writes about the Auburn football program's successes academically and about the basketball Tigers.

It was an accomplishment worthy of a celebration. Maybe somebody should have rolled Toomer's Corner.

When the NCAA's report on the academic progress was released last week, some football programs most would have expected to excel in the classroom were among the top five in Division I-A.

Duke and Stanford were there. No surprise. Those are private schools and two of the foremost academic institutions in the world. Boston College, another private school, was there, as was the Naval Academy, which seeks the best and brightest.

And Auburn was there.

Breaking it down a little further, Auburn was the top-ranked public institution in Division I-A.

The NCAA instituted the Academic Progress Rate last year. It measures the success rate of programs retaining players and keeping them in school in good academic standing. The most successful programs receive special commendations from the NCAA. Those that fall below minimum standards can lose scholarships.

That Auburn football is among those commended didn't happen by accident.

Coach Tommy Tuberville arrived in November 1998 talking about winning a national championship. That wasn't idle chatter. But he talked about something else, too. He talked about wanting his players to graduate and be successful in life after football.

That wasn't idle chatter, either.

It has become commonplace for Auburn seniors to play in bowl games as college graduates. More of the seniors who played in last season's Capital One Bowl were alumni than weren't.

It has happened because Tuberville and those charged with running the academic program have insisted it happen. And it has happened because Auburn players have been willing to do what it takes. It's a team effort among the football coaching staff, senior athletic director for student services Virgil Starks, counselors Troy Smith and Brett Wohlers and dozens of tutors and other support people.

The marriage between football and academics, particularly in this part of the country, is not an easy one to make work. Many of the players are from poor backgrounds. Many attended underfunded, underachieving high schools. They arrive in college often more prepared for facing competition on the field than in the classroom.

Cooper Wallace (left), his mother and Tommy Jackson are shown on graduation day last summer. Both Wallace and Jackson were graduates prior to the start of the 2005 season.

Starks and his staff show the way. They work out of the glittering Charlotte G. Lowder Student-Athlete Development Center, built for some $6 million. Add to that Tuberville's commitment to academics and his determination to sign the kinds of people who are willing and able to earn Auburn degrees.

It all came together last week when the word came that Auburn stood tall in the college football world, off the field as well as on it.

Tuberville said it was like winning a national championship.

And he was right.

Moving on...

Auburn basketball coach Jeff Lebo was frustrated, and he had every right to be. Somebody should be embarrassed. In fact, somebody should have been embarrassed enough to do something about it a long time ago.

I am talking about the recurring problem with the scoreboard and shot clock at Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum.

Last Saturday's game against South Carolina was delayed by a malfunctioning shot clock when Auburn had momentum. It's nothing new. It was the second time this season, and it has happened over and over and over again since the scoreboard that hangs over midcourt was installed in 1997. The balky clock has stopped men's and women's games for several years, often on TV for the world to see.

Long before this season, someone in authority should have decreed that it wouldn't happen again. The solution is simple, really: Find out what's wrong, fix it, or get a new clock. It hasn't happened.

Regardless of what decision is made on upgrading facilities--a new arena or a new practice facility and renovation of Beard-Eaves--the clock situation needs to be resolved by next season. It should have been resolved long ago.

Speaking of facilities, athletic director Jay Jacobs says a study into the feasibility of building a new basketball arena should be completed in about four weeks. At that point, he says, a decision will be made.

Auburn officials have looked at newer arenas across the country and the costs of building them. If the decision is made to go forward, the most likely scenario would be an arena seating in the neighborhood of 8,000.

Until next time...

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